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Politics

The Dilopoulo Brothers and Early American Entertainment

August 18, 2019

Among the various Greek performers and promoters of the 1890s and 1900s, George and Alexander Dilopoulo regularly appeared on stages all across North America and beyond. Consequently, these two brothers have exceedingly complicated histories.

Both men could speak a number of languages and through marriage were affiliated with merchants who attended the flurry of world fairs that took place between 1893 through at least 1933. Yet unlike the majority of newly arriving Greeks to American shores the Dilopoulo family did not hail from the Peloponnese or one of the many Greek islands.

Various news accounts and census records attest that both brothers were born in Egypt. And again, as public documents delineate, the social and personal connections that finally brought the entire Dilopoulo family to North America were those that they had acquired in the Middle East.

For the moment it appears that George Dilopoulo was the first of his family to perform in North America. Unexpectedly, George Dilopoulo’s participation in the Chicago World Exposition of 1893 yielded a description in an account of the Exposition Universe of 1900, better known as the 1900 Paris Exposition. This World’s Fair was held in Paris from April 14 to 12 November 12, 1900.

In this account we hear that among the characters seen along the Parisian exposition Midway “is George G. Dilopoulo, who was chief of the camel boys of the Street of Cairo at Chicago. He was born in Egypt, but explains his name with the statement that his family was originally from Greece. He tried a candy stall in the Egyptian building here but he found the French people did not take kindly to strange sweets and after losing 500 francs he unloaded his white elephant on another ambitious young adventurer.

The ex-camel boy then invested in a stock of oriental ‘jewelry’ mage of babbitt metal. His wares are spread out over a counter hardly larger than a kitchen table, and he probably has as much as $20 invested in his stock. Out of that capital he is making a living and laying up money for the return trip to America, for he will be on hand at the Buffalo exposition next year with a stock of ‘silver jewelry made in Egypt by native.’”(Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln) July 8, 1900.)

The Dilopoulo clan was nothing if not given to travel. In an account describing Alexander Dilopoulo we hear that “for one so young he has traveled extensively. In company with his parents he came to the United States during the summer of the World’s Fair at Chicago.” (Sequachee Valley News (TN) February 16, 1899.) And it is safe to assume the Dilopoulo family came to see George. Whether or not the Dilopoulo family stayed in America following their 1893 trip is unclear.

Yet accounts exist that sometime in 1896, the two Dilopoulo brothers left the United States to take part in the Greco-Turkish War of 1897. The Dilopoulo brothers returned to Greece and entered the army as volunteers. Alexander “was wounded in one of the engagements and after his recovery came to New York, where his parents now reside.” (Sequachee Valley News (TN) February 16, 1899.)

In point of fact, Alexander “lost one of his eyes at the famous ‘Pass of Thermopylae’ where he was bravely fighting for the defense of his country.” (Maryville Times December 10, 1898.)

In late 1898, Alexander Dilopoulo was admitted to Maryville College in Tennessee through the good offices of his brother-in-law Nageeb Arbeely. (July 1863-January 28, 1904.) Arbeely was born in Syria and emigrated to Maryville, Tennessee ultimately graduating from Maryville College. On September 3, 1892, Nageeb Arbeely, married Marie N. Dilopoulo, sister of George and Alexander, in Manhattan.

In By Faith Endowed the Story of Maryville College, we find “in 1898 Latin Professor John Newman organized a man’ glee club whose twenty members practiced four times a week. Boarding the ‘Cannon Ball’ in Maryville, the Club made the circuit of Jonesboro, Morristown, Greenville, New Market and Knoxville. They billed their star performer, George Dilopoulo, from Athens, Greece, as one ‘who sang in six foreign languages and barbaric tongues.’ They were effective as good-will ambassadors and fund raisers.’”

Nageeb Arbeely is an especially notable figure in American history. The Arbeely family is recognized as the first Syrian family to immigrate to the United States. The Arbeely family was also known for their early public lectures in English as well as public performances of music and dance all labeled as being from ‘The Holy Lands’.

A number of the Arbeely brothers also attended various expositions as merchants. George Dilopoulo is credited with not only attending the 1893 Chicago Fair but that “he appeared on the Midway of the Paris Exposition of 1894. In 1901 his bright fez and black gown were attractions of the Midway at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo.

Three years later he was seen at the St. Louis Exposition. In 1907 he was at the Jamestown Exposition; the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915; in 1933 at the Century of Progress in Chicago.” (Morning Post (Camden NJ) June 3, 1941.) It would seem safe to assume Dilopoulo traveled with the Arbeely men, when they attended the various expositions.

Nageeb Arbeely, who became a naturalized-American, was ultimately appointed by President Grover Cleveland to the post of Consul in Jerusalem in 1885. Though Arbeely was popular among the American Colony, he was deemed unacceptable by the Ottoman Empire and within a year was recalled from his position in Jerusalem. Arbeely returned to the United States, becoming the founder and publisher of the first Arabic newspaper in the United States. Arbeely supplemented his income by also being an Inspector at Ellis Island.

Marie (nee Dilopoulo) Arbeely also worked part-time along with her husband at Ellis Island. In 1904, when Arbeely died he was mourned, at large, among the Syrian community of New York. The funeral was held in the Greek Orthodox Church of Brooklyn. Mary Arbeely survived her husband and raised the couple’s children with the help of her extended family.

Much of what we now know concerning the Arbeely family can be traced to the lectures and writings of Dr. Linda K. Jacobs who holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Archaeology/Anthropology. Dr. Jacobs two books, Strangers in the West and Digging in, address the arrival of the Arbeely family as well as the other Syrians who immigrated to the United States during the massive waves of the 1880 to 1920 era.

In 1906, when George Dilopoulo retrieved his mother and other siblings from Alexandria, Egypt he brought them directly to the Arbeely home on Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn.

From roughly 1910 to 1920, we can follow Alexander Dilopoulo’s incredibly popular vaudeville stage career with his wife Alethia (nee Head) as hugely popular psychics. Appearing as Alethia and Aleko the Dilopoulo couple were headliners for the Pantages circuit. Reports of their traveling to Australia during this period are readily available. But after 1920, news accounts seem to confuse the two brothers. Part of this confusion can be seen as resulting from the very public divorce of Alexander and Alethia Dilopoulo.

Both George and Alexander Dilopoulo are said to have died in early June 1941. In newspaper obituaries Alexander is described as a “retired stage actor” while George is the “manager of the Temple of Knowledge, a fortune telling concession” on the (Atlantic City) boardwalk. (Los Angeles Times June 5, 1941; Morning Post (Camden NJ) June 3, 1941.) Clearly, more research on the lives and careers of the entire Dilopoulo family needs to be undertaken. This account is but a rough sketch of the complex careers of two early but notable Greek-American performers.

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